Kevin O'Malley of Pennsylvania shows off two of the five walleye he caught on the first day of the Cabela's National Walleye Tour event on Lake Erie.
THE BLADE/MATT MARKEY
PORT CLINTON — The collection of professional anglers assembled for the Lake Erie stop on the Cabela’s National Walleye Tour had run out of superlatives by midafternoon.
Erie’s cache of huge walleyes had left them struggling for the right words to describe what they had experienced Saturday out on the big lake.
“If you live within an hour of this water, you are spoiled rotten,” walleye pro Steve Miller gushed after his five-fish limit weighed in at 34.70 pounds.
“And if you don’t believe that, then follow me back to Iowa and we’ll catch some bluegills.”
Miller’s catch, which averaged nearly seven pounds per fish, had him chanting the praises of Lake Erie ... but left him in 52nd place in the field of nearly 130 anglers. The big fish were that plentiful.
After the first day of the two-day event, the top 20 in the tournament had all cleared 40 pounds for their five fish — averaging more than eight pounds per fish.
Tournament leader John Gillman, who has been fishing professionally since 2002, entered the largest single-day catch of his career. Gillman’s five fish went 51.70 pounds — averaging better than 10 pounds per fish — a first on the Cabela’s tour.
“What an unbelievable fishery this is,” said Gillman, a Michigan native who lives near Saginaw Bay. “We were throwing back 28-inchers. The spot we were on, all the fish were big.
"Everything went right and it was an unbelievable day.”
Gillman, whose previous best one-day total as a pro was the 36.87 pounds he caught on Lake Erie in a 2003 event, was left shaking his head after Saturday’s haul eclipsed 50 pounds.
“I don’t think I’ll ever do that again,” he said.
Pro Kevin O’Malley of central Pennsylvania was the first to register his catch, and when the scale stopped at 32.27 pounds for an average of more than six pounds per fish, the crowd on hand for the weigh-in at the downtown Waterworks Park gasped at the mass of big fish, but O’Malley was cautious. He had an inkling that many of his fellow pros had done much better, and he was right.
“You can’t win it on the first day, but you can put yourself out of it, so hopefully we’re not out of it,” said O’Malley, who ended up in 78th place when the weigh-in was completed. “There’s a lot of big girls out there. This area is just phenomenal.”
Although understandably hesitant to give up any details on where they fished, how they fished, and what baits or tactics produced the most monster walleye, some anglers confessed they raced as far east as Avon, while others pushed toward the Canadian line in the direction of Pelee Island. After the grouped start from the West Harbor Public Ramp on Catawba Island at first light, the boats scattered across the lake.
“At some tournaments, you have to race to a spot where you want to fish, but not here,” said Minnesota angler Scott Steil, who stands in 40th place with 36.07 pounds.
Ohio pro Mark Brumbaugh sits 56th with 35.30 pounds from his five-fish limit, but he accepted the reality that what Lake Erie serves up distorts the walleye numbers from any other venue on the planet. The winner of the first Cabela’s event this season on the Mississippi River in Minnesota had a two-day, 10-fish total of 26.81 pounds — about half of Gillman’s one-day total.
“You’re going to see a lot of big fish here,” Brumbaugh said.
“They’re out there. I couldn’t find ’em, but that’s the way Lake Erie is. Some guys find ’em.”
Toledo pro Joe Whitten, who finished fifth in the first event of the season, stands in 12th place after the opening day on Lake Erie, with 43.62 pounds — averaging nearly nine pounds per fish on Saturday. Toledo pro Ross Robertson is in 82nd place with 31.55 pounds of walleye.
The tournament was scheduled to start on Friday, but strong winds out of the north and a small craft advisory on the lake forced the postponement until Saturday.
Wind and weather permitting, the walleye pros will be back on the lake early today, and return to weigh their catch by 3 p.m. and crown a champion.
Contact Blade outdoors editor
Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.